Monday, 8 February 2016

Stuck in the mud

Sunday was a Dally Rally at Waterford Country Park in Gateshead. Check out the site here: Watergate

There are miles and miles of green track and open spaces plus the Tanfield Railway track heading off to the  Causey-Arch- a wonderful place to walk thirty or  so Dalmatians. In the north east there are so many places now where land that was once a colliery has been landscaped into a country park. Watergate is one of them, the Rising Sun (4,000 acres) is another - and featured on Countryfile last night with Matt Baker.

The weather was bright and cold with a little sun here and there and all went well. Tim took a little while to get used to so many other dogs, but soon got into the spirit of it though it seemed like every thirty seconds he stopped racing around and looked for me - if he didn't find me - oh panic - where is she? Most of them found every dirty puddle and hollow to splodge in, and there were lots. Some stayed very clean - fastidious Dalmatians.

Some went paddling in the lake, no doubt enticed by the ducks swimming about far out of reach, but then, some dogs just love water. (Tim doesn't. I blame a wave that nearly swamped him when he was having a crap on the beach...)

Several dogs blithely jumped in and then found the shallow water dropped off into deeper water and they were swimming. One appeared to be in difficulties. Paddling like mad with his front feet and getting nowhere. Muzzle only an inch out of the very cold water. Found out later it was Caspar, and his back legs had sunk into the muddy bottom. A brave man with quick reactions spotted him. Jamie rushed over and went to his aid - up to his hips in freezing cold water, and it wasn't his dog.  With a heave, Caspar was free and scrabbling to get to the bank. Jamie took off each Wellington boot and emptied out the water to much applause. It could have been so much worse. Someone video'd it, but it isn't my video, so it wouldn't run if I loaded it. I don't even know if the link will work - but the photographer agreed I could try!
https://www.facebook.com/100005288883122/videos/427193547466938/



Friday, 5 February 2016

Fascinating facts for writers and readers

Public Lending Right says five children's authors are among the top ten most borrowed authors in UK libraries in 2014-15.
It also shows James Patterson at the head of the list for the ninth year running - but is that surprising when he published 15 books in that time period and has 300 titles to his credit? Fortunately he doesn't get PLR payments, for which other authors must be grateful! The 202 authors who received the maximum capped £6,600 are all from the UK.
Thrillers are the most popular genre. Nine out of the top ten most borrowed books are in this group.

Among classic authors Shakespeare came in at number ten with Jane Austen at eleven. Roald Dahl was top, with Enid Blyton second and Agatha Christie third.

David Walliams’w popularity continues to grow and he’s now the 41st most borrowed author compared to his 157th position in 2012-13. His book Awful Auntie was also the most borrowed title in libraries in Northern Ireland. “What fantastic taste the children of Northern Ireland have,” said Walliams. “I am beyond delighted. Libraries are vital for children and adults to discover a wide variety of books. Long may they live!” Another big riser was Liz Pichon (64th from 160th last year), who was told off for doodling as a child. But the author of the excellent Tom Gates series, which she writes and illustrates, is one of the most popular in libraries.
David Walliams’s popularity continues to grow and he’s now the 41st most borrowed author compared to his 157th position in 2012-13

In the humour category  Bart Simpson: Big Shot! by Matt Groening came top.

"So many writers benefit from PLR money. In February 2016, PLR will make payments totalling £6 million to 22,347 writers, illustrators, photographers, editors, translators, adaptors, narrators, producers and abridgers. This year’s rate per loan is 7.67 pence."

In the travel and holiday genre, Londoners chose Lonely Planet’s Italy by Cristian Bonetto as their top pick. Other regions disagreed - in Scotland the most borrowed was Edinburgh for Under Fives, edited by Cathy Tingle; in Wales it was Insufficiently Welsh, by Griff Rhys Jones; and in Yorkshire it was North York Moors & Yorkshire Wolds, by Mike Bagshaw.

Mary Berry was the most burrowed non-fiction writer, but MC Beaton, author of the Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth crime fiction books, has held the title of most borrowed British author of books for adults for the last six years. MC Beaton said: “I am thrilled to bits to be the most borrowed British author in UK public libraries. Writing is a very isolating job and, as I am only human, PLR is a sort of lifeline to me from the general borrowing public. I thank them from the bottom of my inky heart.”

Catherine Cookson remains the UK’s most borrowed author over the past 20 years: her books have been borrowed over 32 million times between 1995 and 2015. Jacqueline Wilson is the UK’s most borrowed children’s author over the past 20 years: her books have been borrowed over 24 million times between 1995 and 2015.

Read all the detail here: Martin Chilton, culture editor 5 FEBRUARY 2016 • 6:54AM


Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Editing and Boat Races

Going great guns with editing my latest wip. The first three chapters are finally whipped into shape. Extraneous words like "just, only, almost," removed. POV checked. "Telling" changed to "showing." Fluff and useless info removed.  I think it is going to be called The Queen's Courier. Only another 20 odd chapters to go.

Excitement on the river on Sunday. The Rutherford Head of the River Race finally went ahead after having been cancelled on 6th December and again on 30th January. The first time was because of the flood conditions and the second time for high winds. They were extremely lucky, because we've had Storm Gertrude high winds every day this week except Sunday! It was beautifully calm, if not sunny, but the winds are  back again to day.

I walked the three miles or so from Wylam to Newburn with Tim, who ran off-lead most of the way with no trouble. Here he is behaving well as we watched a couple of boats whizzing by. I met Sandra and her family there - the gang, she calls them - Kate, Taya, Roshan and Sufian. Big brother Kieron was rowing for Edinburgh University. Evidently they'd had an accident with their boat, so didn't do too well.

People say this year's floods are unprecedented, but there are some chilling marks carved into the front wall of the Boathouse Inn at Newburn; markers for the height of Tyne floods in past years. Given that the inn stands some ten feet or more above the level of the river, one marker was waist high on me, one was chest high and the 1771 flood was way over my head. I remember that the town hall in Yarm had similar markers for when the Tees flooded, though I don't recall standing next to them.

DH picked me up so I didn't have to walk home. All in all I completed over 11,000 steps that day!




Friday, 29 January 2016

Beowulf

Beowulf the current tv show was a surprise to me.
I looked forward to watching it not least because it has been shot in the north of England. Eastgate in Weardale - also known as Heorot - is no more than thirty miles from where I live. The landscapes shown on screen are fairly typical of my area.

Unhappily I wasn't very taken with the production. The sets are fabulous, if a trifle overdone. The mead hall would have taken a team of carpenters years and the amount of gold decoration is way over the top. I was puzzled by the number of coloured actors, puzzled by a thane being a woman, puzzled that the blacksmith was a frail looking woman, by the amount of fantasy creatures hanging about and so it went on. Slowly it began to dawn on me that this Beowulf is not a retelling of the Beowulf poem. It would have been better to have named it something else and removed all references to the original.

As a fantasy it probably works well, but I have to say I'm not enamoured of the actors or the story line. All told it isn't for me. But then I'm one of the few people who got bored a third of the way through Game of Thrones Vol 1 and midway in the Tolkien saga. That sort of Fantasy is not my thing though I'm happy to read Time Slip novels, which may be considered another kind of fantasy.

Monday, 25 January 2016

It comes to us all

I'm not a reader of magazines except when I go to my hairdresser, who always has a stash of Hello and OK pus the more upmarket Country Living, Vogue and Tatler types. This means that every six or seen weeks, I get to sit and scan the glossy pictures, though I rarely read the text - usually because my contacts are fine for distance but not too clever for small type a foot from my face. Anyway, I digress. Over the last decade it has slowly become obvious to me that more and more OK and Hello consider as celebrities people who are totally unknown to me. At first it was one person, then two, now it is more than 60 per cent unrecognised faces smiling up at me. It's a bit like Pointless and the pop music questions - I didn't know so many groups existed - it's rare to hear of one I recognise!

Should I be worried? I don't think so. The featured people all have a certain plastic look about them, in much the same way that American actresses all have a similar look, or the Italian beauties who feature in The Montalbano - young and old - series sometimes look as if they've come from the same extended family - every one has huge brown eyes, long, curling dark locks and voluptuous figures.

The photographs I see in the magazines these days are nearly always one of two types - either dyed blondes with untidy hair, who look as if they've just got out of bed and hit the streets without benefit of a shower, or blondes with perfect "American" hair - big, bouncy and curling over their shoulders. The latter young ladies all lounge provocatively on their expensive sofas or pose in a glamorous dress, one high-heeled foot carefully posed in front of the other to give the required shape and length of leg. Their lips look as if they would come off and never return if any man dared to kiss them.

I smile, and flick the pages, looking for someone I recognise. The young celebrities featured in these magazines don't tally with my concept of equality in today's world, somehow. Nor do their homes fulfil my nosiness about how other people live, because they are so extreme with their chandeliers and swimming pools. I prefer watching Escape to the Country where the houses are more like homes than film sets. What they are bringing home to me is the realisation that the generation gap has well and truly hit. Now I know how my parents felt when we modern young things did and said things they did not understand. It comes to us all - eventually, even the svelte young things in Hello and OK!


Tuesday, 19 January 2016

For my own safety's sake.

I heard on the news this morning that certain non-white celebrities are boycotting some awards ceremony because only white people have won an award. I also heard that a heterosexual couple don't want to get married but want to have a civil partnership instead.

These may seem trivial and unrelated, but they are an example of the things I hear every day recently where a minority group doesn't think it should accept the majority decision that has been made.
Is democracy a thing of the past?

It seems that minorities who cannot accept the status quo now take to the media and complain until they get what they want. The media have to preserve their own jobs and take up every complaint, however mad, with glee. It doesn't seem to matter that many of the said stories are wacky, way out, unfair and plain undemocratic. (In  my view, naturally.  But everyone else these days airs their views, so I thought I'd air mine.) If this sort of thing goes on, soon every known rule in the land will have been broken, overturned and done away with in favour of anything goes.

In which case, I remember the words put into Thomas More's mouth in A man for all Seasons:

MORE And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!
ROPER So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!
MORE Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
ROPER I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

MORE (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on ROPER) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you-where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? (He leaves him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast-man's laws, not God's-and if you cut them down-and you're just the man to do it-d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.





Friday, 15 January 2016

The World's Top-Earning Authors 2015

As usual, James Patterson leads the highest-paid authors ranking with an estimated $89 million in 12 months thanks to his huge output. Patterson churns out some 16 books a year with the help of co-authors. Though best-known for adult crime thrillers Patterson also boasts more New York Times best sellers for children than any other living author.


John Green earned $26 million and Veronica Roth $25 million; they rank second and third respectively.


Danielle Steel came in fourth, with Jeff Kinney, who banked an estimated $23 million thanks his Diary of a Wimpy Kid series at fifth. Books for Young Adults seem to be the most popular thing.


Here are some other notable names with their earnings, all in dollars since the source for this is the New York Times:


Janet Evanovich $21 million


Stephen King $19 million


J.K. Rowling has recently donned an invisibility cloak of her own, writing crime fiction under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith $19 million


Dan Brown raked in $13 million.


Suzanne Collins Hunger Games’ and “Gone Girl” author Gillian Flynn made $13 million each


Nora Roberts banked $18 million thanks mostly to a backlist of more than 220 titles.


E.L. James $12 million haul from the sales of her kinky “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy


James is tied with Game of Thrones’ George R.R. Martin


To form the list of highest-earning authors, we look at print, ebook and audiobook sales from Nielsen BookScan figures, consider TV and movie earnings and talk to authors, agents, publishers and other experts. Earnings are tabulated from June 2014 to June 2015 and are pretax; other fees are not deducted.





One author who does not make the cut: Harper Lee. Our scoring period closed before “Go Set A Watchman” was published, while the reported $2.5 million a year she receives from “To Kill A Mockingbird” royalties are not enough to make this ranking’s $10 million entry.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_York_Times_Fiction_Best_Sellers_of_2015

Monday, 11 January 2016

Recent Good Reads

 I have just had the pleasure of reading two books I really enjoyed. Here's a link to one: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Secrets-Sea-House-Elisabeth-Gifford/dp/1782391134

The other is Little-Black-Lies by Sharon-Bolton
http://tinyurl.com/j5f69pm

Very different stories, very different styles, but in a way, similar locations. Both come through the voices of three first person POV characters which gells very nicely with what I'm writing at the moment, except that I have rather more than three. I have four, though two are of lesser importance.

The location is, in both cases, an island. One the Falklands in 1994 and the other, Harris in both present day and in the 1860s. Both remote with isolated communities who react to tragedy in a way modern day urban dwellers do not.

In both cases, the writing is an effortless read - quite different, in my view to the rather jerky, purple prose style of The Tea Planter's Wife which I began some time ago and still have not read more than halfway - though I have peeked at the end chapter to see what the fuss is all about. For some reason, the characters of The TP'sW did not grip or come alive for me though the place names brought back some  memories of a long ago trip to Sri Lanka. Was it still called Ceylon then? It might have been.

I can't claim to have been to the Falkland Islands, but I have been to Scarista in Harris and admired the beautiful seascapes. Both almost become characters in their own right in the books, whereas Ceylon stayed muted. There must be a reason why the characters of one story fail to claim my attention and I'm tempted to go back and treat all three as an exercise until I have the reasons to my satisfaction. Then I could use what I know to advantage in my own stories.
PS There's a very good review of Little Black Lies by Maggie Scott on Goodreads.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Rain, editing, dentists and holidays

 The rain goes on. We don't go for walks any more, Tim and I - we go for a splodge. Wellies a necessity, rain proof clothing a boon and off we go. In a strange way it is invigorating, and we can always come back to  nice warm house and a cup of coffee.
Good weather for editing, I hear you say. Well, yes, and I am. But I've found that I can only do so much before the eyes glaze over and I've stopped - the critical faculty ceases to operate. So at the same time as editing the beginning of the book Queen's Courier (the sequel to Abduction of the Scots Queen) I'm seeing the last few chapters through the critique group. This might sound as if it would be confusing, but it has advantages as well because each edit deepens the characterisation - or I hope it does - and refines the plotting. Working at both ends of the book means I am familiar with it in a way I wouldn't be if I was working from a-z each time.

This week I've had lots of dental visits, too. Three in a week is too much for comfort or a good night's sleep, but hopefully the root canal and the abscess are now history and I can banish the Paracetomols to the back of the drawer again.

Another good thing - we've started to think about holidays in France and possibly a week in Kielder Forest before the midgies emerge - and that means pre-May. They're nice thoughts to curl up with as I glance out of the window and contemplate the third walk of the day with Tim. Wish me luck - it's raining again.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Best selling fiction 2015

This morning I wanted to see a list of titles for best-selling UK fiction of 2015, and came up with this list:

Amazon Best sellers 2015







By Janice Frost

By Lee Child


There are many literary lists of titles that have passed me by, often by authors unknown to me. What I want to do is have a list of the best selling fiction for Amazon and then check it against a Nielsen list of all book sales and then check that against a list of American titles. I suspect there will an astonishing difference!


Friday, 1 January 2016

2016 and numbers

First post of the New Year.
 2015 visitor figures were not quite as high as 2012, which was the highest ever - but if the StatCounter had recorded the number of visitors accessing via mobile phones and ipads sooner, then I think it would have been my highest year since I started the blog.

I had been sad because blog visitors appeared to be dwindling. Then at the end of October StatCounter started recording over the range of newer gadgets, and the numbers rose quite dramatically.

Now if only book sales were doing likewise! Lots of pages are being read, but sales are definitely down. I really ought to gear myself up to promoting on a regular basis. My intentions are good but I am weak in the actual doing, so I have only myself to blame. Must get a grip!

Sunday, 27 December 2015

It's a strange world.

It's all over now. (Wasn't that  a Rolling Stones hit once upon a time?)
Christmas is a very strange time of year when the days are short, dark and dismal so we fill the place with bright, twinkling lights almost as if we're afraid of the dark. Sunrise is around 8.30  and sunset about 3.30 thanks to Summer Time fiddling with the clocks. We need the surge of energy that Christmas brings - the rush to buy presents, to fill the fridge, freezer and store cupboard so we can eat and survive the freezing weather, to keep ourselves busy doing energetic, happy things. It's an instinct to come together, to herd together instead of trying to survive on our own. In ancient days, it would have been vital for survival. Today, with electricity and abundant food, it is a psychological need for bright lights and companionship. The urge that strikes people to rush out and buy "bargains" in the post-Christmas sales - which used to be "January sales" - could be considered as relief and affirmation that we're still alive.

The shortest day has crept by, almost submerged in the floods that afflict the north of England. Those who live on flood plains must now be counting the cost as rivers, delightful in summer, now metamorphose into raging torrents of brown, muddy water. Trees that soak up gallons of water a day have been ruthlessly felled to provide grazing. Streams clog up with debris, branches and leaf litter and no one clears them. Water has soaked into the land all through autumn, and now runs straight off the hills and into the river systems. The river Tyne was rising again yesterday for the third or fourth time this month. So much rain has fallen in so short a time there is little anyone can do. News bulletins tell me the same is happening in South America, while Australia suffers bush fires. It's a strange world we have today.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Saga

Image result for the bridge actress sagaHave you been following the Bridge III? I have and found it riveting. It's one of the Scandi noir tv productions with a heroine who is "different" - her words, not mine. She has troubled understanding jokes, and tells the absolute truth, seems unable to lie. This makes it difficult for her to socialise and she is regarded by many of her colleagues as an oddball.

A workaholic, she is the best Malmo police station can offer in the way of detectives and by that I mean she is brilliant. The other important factor in the series is the Oresund Bridge which links Sweden and Denmark, Malmo and Copenhagen. I depend on the English subtitles, but it may be that the language changes as the locations switch between Sweden and Denmark. I was also unaware that the two countries did not always get on, for want of a better word. Culturally they claim to be world's apart.

The Bridge has its own Facebook page, and the actress who plays the part of Saga is a fragile looking blonde who wears a khaki coloured coat, waistcoat, sweater  and leather trousers. Even her vintage Porsche is khaki. Fragile she is not, in a gun-toting, catch the crim way. But in personal relationship, yes, very. As troubles she does not know how to deal with crowd in on her, we fear that she will follow her sister and throw herself under a train. A colleague haunted by the disappearance of his wife and two daughters is the only one who can possibly save her.

It really is magnificent acting and thought the criminal acts are best viewed through hands over the eyes, I recommend this series to you as essential viewing. Check out BBC4 The Bridge III.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Write like Reacher

I've recently become a Lee Child fan and read half a dozen of his books, so when I saw this article (in the Independent newspaper, on Monday, 5th January, 2015,) I copied it here so I can re-read it for my own pleasure any time I want. Plus which anyone who missed it can also have the pleasure.
Here's the link: http://tinyurl.com/hlal8ss

·        Andy Martin is the author of the article and his link will show you others he has written - including one about Stephen King and Lee Child.
      
      Novel approach: Andy Martin observes quietly in the background while Lee Child works on his latest book Jené LeBlanc
"This isn’t the first draft, you know." He’d only written two words. "CHAPTER ONE."
"Oh," I said. "What is it then?"
"It’s the only draft!"

Right then, he sounded more like Jack Reacher than Lee Child. More Reacher than writer. "I don’t want to improve it. When I’ve written something, that is the way it has to stay. It’s like one of those old photos you come across. From the 1970s. And you have this terrible Seventies haircut and giant lapels on your jacket. It’s ridiculous – but it’s there. It is what it is. Leave it alone."

We were in the back office of his apartment on Central Park West, New York, a few blocks north of where John Lennon used to live. Lee Child was sitting at his huge riveted metal desk, his long fingers poised over the keyboard, gazing into a 27in screen. Which was practically blank. It was 2.26 in the afternoon, 1 September 2014.

He had to start on 1 September – 20 years to the day since, having been fired from his job in television, he went out and bought the paper and pencil (and a pencil sharpener) with which he would write Killing Floor, his first Jack Reacher novel. Every year, ever since then, he has started a new one on the very same day. It’s a ritual with him. Now, it’s Reacher 20.

"The first day is always the best," Child, now 60, said. "Because you haven’t screwed anything up yet. It’s a gorgeous feeling." I was about to be witness to the genesis of a new work, the Big Bang moment. I had no idea what was coming next. Nor did he.

Because this is the key thing about the way that Lee Child writes, the thing that drew me to write to him and ask whether he would mind my watching him at work. He really didn’t know what was going to happen next. He had nothing planned. "I have no title and no plot," he said. But I could come anyway. He didn’t think I would put him off too much. He relied on inspiration to guide him. Like a muse. Something very basic and mythical, without too much forethought. He likes his writing to be organic and spontaneous and authentic. But he had a glimmering of what was coming. "I can feel it. The rhythm. It’s got to be stumbly. It’s tough guys talking. I have to get their vernacular. But, at the same time, it has to trip ahead. A tripping rhythm. Forward momentum."

I was sitting on a kind of sofa a couple of yards behind him. Just perched on the edge of it, not really lying down or anything.

"It’s reverse Freudian," Child said. "You’re on the couch and you’re analysing me."

The title had popped into his head the night before. "Make Me… I don’t know, it’s not definite. But I like it. It’s got something. Sounds like Reacher, all right. Playground machismo. And then there’s that meaning to do with being under surveillance, making someone, identifying them, tailing them. And maybe a little bit erotic or romantic, too."

I could see over his shoulder. "And remember, I’m not making this up. Reacher is real. He exists. This is what he is up to, right now. That’s why I can’t change anything – this is just the way it is."

He lit another cigarette and took a deep drag and blew out a lot of smoke, then put the cigarette in the ashtray. "I was thinking: you have a high risk of dying from secondary smoke inhalation here."

I was thinking: the smoke is all part of it. Like a magic show. Smoke and mirrors. Lee Child was a magician, for once tweaking aside the curtain and saying: "OK, come on through and let me show you exactly how it’s done." Revealing his secrets.

He tapped a few keys. "Do not check spelling. Or grammar. I am going to let Microsoft tell me what grammar is?!"

Anyone who doesn’t want to know how the next Reacher book begins, look away now. The first line came out as follows:

"Moving a guy as big as Keever wasn’t easy."

I was hooked. He had me on "Moving". Participle form, verb of action. We begin with a burial. The novel hasn’t even started yet and one man is already dead.

According to Forbes magazine, Lee Child has the "strongest brand" in all fiction. More readers want to get to know this author than any other. And they clamour for more Reachers. It always takes him the best part of a year to write one. Partly because he spends a lot of time "goofing off", as he puts it: publicising the previous one; Madrid in October to pick up a literary award; Long Beach, California, in November, for Bouchercon, the annual jamboree of thriller and mystery writers from around the world; party at the United Nations in December.

Harold Pinter once said: "I cannot understand the mentality of one who is awaiting the next Lee Child." Child is denounced as the anti-Proust. But literary snobs may be surprised to learn that he is not some kind of lucky idiot savant in possession of a magic formula. He is serious about his writing. He is a poet, in the ancient Greek sense of poiesis, a maker, a craftsman, dedicated to his art, who harks back to the artisan metalworkers of his youth in Birmingham and Sheffield. (Hence Make Me.)

For example, on the night of 1 September, he explained why he was putting in a comma. He felt the need for a comma, in a sentence about some bad guys burying poor old Keever. It would make it more "rueful and contemplative", he said. Something to do with Flaubertian point of view. He was preoccupied by "voice". Later, he spent considerable time worrying about the word “onto” (he thought it was ugly). Shortly before Christmas, he announced: "I’ve just written this four-word sentence. I’m pretty pleased with it." Classic degree-zero minimalism à la Camus’ The Outsider. Meursault with muscles.

Child has made a fortune out of his brand of mythical realism. Just as Reacher is half-Rimbaud, half-Rambo, Child is both art-for-art’s-sake Parnassian and ruthless businessman. And he sees no contradiction between the two. He had a formative insight at around the age of seven or eight, when Ford came up with the Cortina. "It was supposed to be the first ‘modern car’. It was said that they had redesigned the steering wheel over and over again – to shave a single penny off the cost. We were divided about it. In Birmingham [where he grew up], I mean. Assuming it was true. The steering wheel was such an important part of the whole thing. The most intimate part of the car, really. And some people were annoyed that commerce was trumping art. The art people hated the commerce. The engineers hated the art people. But I realised even then that art was commerce. They’re one and the same thing. It’s not either/or."

In September 2014, when Personal came out, it was not only No 1 in the best-seller lists but was also outselling the next 10 or 15 books down the line, combined. Including, for example, Martin Amis’s Holocaust novel. When I mentioned this to another writer, he paused, reflected, and then uttered his considered judgement: "FUCK YOU, LEE CHILD!" He took the view that Child was basically annihilating the competition. Child took it on the chin. "We’re all trying our best," Child said. “I don’t have a problem with them if they don’t have a problem with me."

Broadly sympathetic to wannabe writers, admiring of Amis and tolerant of Julian Barnes and Edward Docx, Lee Child has a slight issue with David Baldacci. Jack Reacher is an ex-military cop. He is very big. He head-butts people. John ("Johnny come lately") Puller – Baldacci’s more recent recurring hero – is a military cop. He is very big. He head-butts people. "Puller," Child snarled, "is a total bloody rip-off of Reacher!"

In one novel, he has a character called Baldacci. Reacher breaks both his arms. In another, he has someone called Puller who is a total idiot. Reacher says: "Did someone drop you on your head when you were young?" In Personal, Baldacci becomes Archi-bald. Reacher shoots him in the head. "What I can’t understand is why someone didn’t take him to one side and just have a quiet word in his ear. ‘Listen, David, you realise that everyone is going to think this is pure plagiarism, don’t you? Reacher was there before Puller – and he’s better!’"

Perching on Lee Child’s shoulder, like a pirate’s parrot, while he writes his next book is an education and a privilege. I sometimes wonder why he lets me do it. Perhaps like an ageing boxer (who smokes a pack of Camels a day and once drank a record 30 cups of coffee) he wants a spectator for his last big fight. “I write on the verge of a stroke,” he says. But I begin to suspect that he likes having somebody around to take note of the occasional brilliant four-word sentence. He once wrote a short hymn to democracy, which was an acrostic: the five sentences began O-B-A-M-A. "And nobody noticed!" he lamented.

Sometimes I have the impression that, as per quantum theory, the observer changes (ever so slightly) the thing observed by virtue of the act of observation. Recently, Child’s American publishers questioned the Make Me title. He remained immovable. "I couldn’t back down. I’d told you the title. You’d only take the piss."




Sunday, 13 December 2015

Ovingham bridge

Water is an amazing thing. It comes out of our taps and showers under our control and at whatever temperature we want. It changes form - from liquid to ice to snow, fog and mist. In our summer streams it trickles over stones and forms golden pools and sometimes, if the weather is very warm for an extended period, the supply dries up and disappears. But too much of it is devastating. Click on the pics to the right and see the devastation the flood leaves behind in its wake once it has roared by.

We are lucky that we live in an area with a Tyne Catchment

3,000 square mile catchment area so we have never yet experienced the drought conditions that so regularly affect the south of England. The water takes five hours to travel from Alston to Newcastle, which is not a great deal of time to prepare for flood conditions. Usually it is a swift rise in levels, lasts for perhaps half a day and then subsides. But by then it has done its terrible work.

On the right you see the Victorian bridge between Ovingham and Prudhoe. Built in 1883, it is one carriage width wide and causes traffic queues even when it is open. It has been closed for refurbishment since June 2014 so that the iron structure can be repaired if necessary.

Eighteen months of work completed, coupled with eighteen months of frustration and lost business for the residents on either side of the river, it opened briefly on 3rd December and then closed again because the floods knocked the hell out of the scaffolding. They're waiting for normal river levels before they'll check for damage/safety.  £3 million has been spent on the bridge - so far. I expect the bridge itself is OK. At the peak of past floods, traffic has been forbidden, but when the waters recede the bridge has been ready for business again. The workmen now have a dismal job of removing the scaffolding, boards around the struts and all the accumulated rubbish. Twigs, branches, tree trunks, doors, plastic buckets and probably a dead sheep or two.

Whose to say it won't happen again if it keeps on raining? We had snow for three or four hours yesterday....